By Zach Walker
For me, the draft is almost magical. It’s drama, excitement, and everything that TV wants it to be. The best part of the draft, whether an “expert” grades as a “loser”, every team picked each player with conviction and optimism, for what that player is currently and could turn out to be. But no one stirs up the honey pot of Radio City Music Hall, like when Jerry Jones and the Cowboys jump on the clock. And when the Jones’ ticked onto the clock, they gave the viewing audiences exactly what they wanted. The Cowboys were staring down the laces at Johnny Manziel. Manziel had slid harder than expected, and once the Titans chose the monster Taylor Lewan, there was only one suitor left in the teens with the potential to free him from the green room, the Dallas Cowboys. But would they take him? Why? They are financially hand-cuffed to Tony Romo. But two back surgeries within a calender year, on a 34 year old quarterback, maybe the future is now? If Romo is fully healthy, maybe Manziel sits and learns for a season. And for seven minutes, I paced and pleaded, checked texts asking,” Is this gonna happen!?” And for a minute, while the clock started to circle the drain, I thought out loud, “This is going to happen…”, that statement being accompanied by full-blown gut ache. The card was turned in, the selection made. As the the commissioner walked to the podium to a fanfare of jeers, he positioned himself to deliver the news. “With the sixteenth pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select,” (gut explosion), “Zack Martin, Guard, Notre Dame.” And a tsunami of elation absolutely washes me into my seat, which never felt so welcoming. That’s picking with your head, Jones’, your football head, because the choice of Zack Martin makes a hell of a lot more sense than dollars and cents. If Jerry Jones just wanted to make money, you bet your buns that he would have drafted Manziel.
The days of not drafting offensive linemen in the first round are long gone, having selected one in three of the last four drafts, and it now means that the entire Cowboys offensive line could consist of home-grown career Cowboys, zero free agents, if Ron Leary can beat out Mackenzy Bernadeau.
Zack Martin is everything that the Cowboys want and need in a guard. Tough, technical, and a no joke day one worker. Read any and everything about him, his weaknesses would only keep him from playing left tackle at the NFL level (so does being on the same line as Tyron Smith). But as a guard, he’s seemingly unsinkable, and when he’s plugged between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the Cowboys could possibly use the running game to hold down a late lead, cram the ball down defense’s throats, and lock in some wins. This pick makes the run game better, and might keep DeMarco Murray from getting banged up. It should help Romo stand upright, and with a possible emphasis on the running game, gives the defense more time to breathe and scheme. Picking Zack Martin should almost be considered highbrow.
Day two ended quickly, as the Cowboys traded their second and third round picks to the Redskins, of all teams, to select DeMarcus Lawrence, from Boise State. My deduction of the trade up was that the Cowboys must have thought that the Falcons were a risk to select him with the 37th pick. The player isn’t the problem, he had 20 sacks in two seasons. He has buildable size, and a ruthless tenacity to get after the ball carrier. The problem is that we gave up a lot to the Redskins in this trade. That’s not a good move.
Day three: The first player taken by the Cowboys was an undersized linebacker, who time after time this past season, made big plays for Iowa, solid if he keeps the play in front of him. In round five, the Cowboys traded up to address offense for the second and final time in the draft, selecting Devin Street from Pittsburgh, a receiver with a knack for attacking the ball rather than just having the ball meet him. Not a burner, but an ideally sized possession target to soak up a roster spot and fight for the third and fourth receiver position. The seventh round was quite like the holiday five pack, started as a six pack… you get the point. Ben Gardner is a defensive end, who almost unanimously a fourth round pick by experts, slid extremely hard, and fell right into the Cowboys’ boat. Will Smith was a tackle machine at Texas Tech, and along with Hitchens, should adjust for playing time at the outside linebacker positions. Ahmad Dixon has bona fide skills enough to push JJ Wilcox and Jeff Heath for reps, and can really staple people when he’s got the momentum behind him. Ken Bishop is a high motor player in the same mold of Will Sutton and Caraun Reid. Terrance Mitchell really should not have lasted until three picks left in the entire draft, but that’s how you get value from the draft, Mitchell could start the year as the Cowboys fourth corner, and provide solid depth at a much needed position of improvement.
Z. Martin – A – For the smart football move.
D. Lawrence – B – Steep trade, but a really good player.
A. Hitchens – C- – Consensus says that this guy would have been there in the later parts of day 3, but coaches must have loved him to draft him so high.
D. Street – B+ – A scrappy receiver, who has starter potential.
B. Gardner – B+ – Will play in rotation, hard worker.
W. Smith – C+ – Major tackler, will get chance to play with Hitchens.
A. Dixon – A – Major value pick at a position of need.
K. Bishop – B – Most likely Gardner’s running mate, serious motor.
T. Mitchell – B – Can be a major fly-in-the-ointment in preseason.
Okay, so my grades are biased, but these players barely have jersey numbers, so grades are totally premature. But if you think that these late round defensive draft picks can’t become anything, you obviously didn’t watch the Cowboys play defense last season.
Team Grade: B+